, ,

Another massacre brings more calls for gun control. We even see references to the so-called Australian model, which aims to remove guns from citizens’ hands entirely. It’s like one of those western’s where the killers, extortionists, and general scum ride into town with a show of force, to intimidate the town folk. The sheriff calls a meeting of all the men. In a typical western, the men bring their guns. In the new, Australian scenario, the sheriff tells everyone he’s going to take their guns away!

Now the argument begins. Gun control advocates say that we have police now: the sheriff does not need to commission a posse comitatus to keep order and defend the town from criminals. The idea of armed self-defense is out of date: we’re not in the wild west anymore. Gun rights advocates respond, “It doesn’t look like the police have done such a good job protecting us, have they?” Gun control advocates come back, “How can they, when we’re all swimming in an ocean of firearms?” This argument does not have an endpoint.

Shane, both the book and the film, tells a story about the role of guns in self-defense. A man named Shane – he doesn’t have a last name – rides into town. He looks like a regular working hand, and he hires on with a local farmer. One day the farmer’s son discovers a handgun among Shane’s belongings. He’s fascinated, and super-impressed that Shane owns such a handsome piece. Shane reminds the youngster that it is weapon, to be used only as a last resort.

Shane shows his young friend how to shoot.

Jack Palance finishes his friend off with a smile.

Then a murderer comes to town. He kills a local man who challenges him. The town does not know what to do. They are peaceable people, without skill or experience to deal with a man who offs people almost as a sport. So Shane goes into town, with his gun, to challenge the killer. In the showdown at the bar, Shane reveals he is not a regular working guy. He shows consummate skill as he rids the town of the killer and his cronies. No one but Shane could have performed this good service. He rides away with the town’s gratitude, and no one knows who he is.

The town’s salvation tells why some individuals – at their discretion – need to know how to use weapons. In this sense the story explains the Second Amendment. We all know the amendment’s opening clause, and the clause that follows: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Gun control advocates say that just as we no longer form posses because we have police forces, we no longer form militias because we have the Department of Defense. All the justifications for owning firearms have expired with the development of both our law enforcement and our national security apparatus. Ownership of firearms – and the amendment that guarantees the right to own weapons – are anachronisms.

Anachronism or not, the right is still there. You cannot abrogate a right merely because you think the justification for it is out of date. People have made similar claims that new circumstances require dilution of established rights. During one national security hysteria after another, from the Japanese internment to the Red Scare to 9/11, people have argued – successfully – that we should suspend or modify basic rights to protect ourselves. They say that free speech, free movement and privacy rights grant our enemies advantages they can use to kill us and destroy our free institutions. One might add that our enemies aim only to kill us – we can destroy the institutions on our own.

Let’s return for a minute to the Second Amendment. Suppose the need for militias, and therefore the need for private gun ownership, are both things of the past. We know one thing for sure: someday current institutions, needs and norms will be things of the past, too. Would you permanently abrogate a right – a right so fundamental it is written into the Constitution – because one group of people, under particular circumstances, thinks private ownership of weapons threatens them? Make no mistake: once government representatives become the only individuals who can deploy firearms, private citizens will never have that capacity again. No matter how much conditions change in the future, the citizenry will remain disarmed.

That is the surest path to tyranny I can imagine. We have already traveled a long way in that direction. Some would say we have arrived. Others would say we are still free. No matter where you think we are in the spectrum of light and dark, freedom and tyranny, and no matter which direction you believe we are moving, confiscation of firearms by government would represent an irrecoverable loss. As Americans, we would never be free again. We would be ants, our home would be an ant heap, and our government could do whatever it likes with us.

Government already does what it likes with us. Gun ownership at least grants the self-respect required for civil resistance. That holds even if you believe violent resistance can neither restore nor effectively establish rights. A disarmed, demoralized citizenry rapidly becomes unable to protect itself, corralled like animals in a small pen, fed twice a day. An armed citizenry would never go through the gate. An armed citizenry produces judicious protectors with no last name.

Related quotes

Related articles

Solid reasoning from Salon:

The Second Amendment must go: We ban lawn darts. It’s time to ban guns.

Better reasoning from Reason:

How Background Checks and an ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban Failed in San Bernardino

And some background from CNN:

Did Jefferson really say that? Why bogus quotations matter in gun debate.

Research at Monticello.org:

When government fears the people, there is liberty…(Quotation)

On Thomas Jefferson and the Second Amendment:

Thomas Jefferson at The James Madison Research Library and Information Center